Latest Review – Guillaume Tell [Vienna State Opera]

GUILLAUME TELL

Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper)

Until Tuesday 19 March 2024

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The version of Guillaume Tell we see today is a good deal different from the version that was first presented by the Paris Opera way back in 1829, but despite the significant changes and abridgements over the years, it is still an opera that presents several challenges for any opera company that is looking to stage it.

Rossini’s last and joint longest opera – oft sung in German in its early years rather than the original French libretto, as per Friedrich Schiller’s play Wilhelm Tell, on which the opera is based – features more than four hours of music in its full, unabridged version, excluding any intervals and pauses. Nowadays, thankfully, the opera is all wrapped up in a rather more palatable four hours in total, including two intervals and a short pause. Guillaume Tell is big and ambitious, challenging and demanding, in true Grand Opera style, and a far cry from many of his better known lighter works.

David Pountney’s striking production, staged by Welsh National Opera in 2014, is full of interesting visual flourishes and striking tableaux. Featuring bold stage designs and costumes by Richard Hudson, this Tell is traditional in its approach though with some darker, fairy-tale elements added in.

The rural Swiss alpine vistas and early 14th century Lake Lucerne setting are beautifully established through a series of painterly cloths and models which gives the staging a warm, pastoral feel, though much of the stage is dominated by the appearance of two giant articulated puppets symbolising the arrival of the Shepherd Festival.

If the staging challenges weren’t difficult enough, then the principal cast changes in the preceding weeks only further complicated matters. It was a production that seemed beset with problems from the off, with Roberto Frontali replacing the originally scheduled Carlos Álvarez as Tell, and John Osborn replacing Juan Diego Flórez as Arnold, just days before rehearsals were due to begin. Thankfully, however, the production went off without a hitch and the performances were of an exceptionally strong standard.

Veteran baritone Frontali is rock solid as the titular marksman, combining powerful vocals with strong acting ability in a performance filled with experience and depth, though he perhaps lacks a little charisma for someone leading a rebellion against foreign uprising.

Taking on the hugely demanding role of Arnold is American tenor John Osborn, returning to a role he first played in 2007 and has since performed in opera houses across the world. Much of the role is written in the high tenor range and requires an experienced bel canto tenor capable of executing the seventeen high Cs in the score. In Osborn, we have just that, and he sings the most difficult notes with relative ease, as well as demonstrating great chemistry with Frontali and the glorious Lisette Oropesa (a fellow American) as Mathilde.

Oropesa is utterly joyous as Mathilde, navigating the difficult coloratura passages with such precision and skill and singing with great colour and tone. A stirling performance from one of the finest sopranos around.

Elsewhere, there are standout performances from Peruvian tenor Iván Ayón-Rivas as Ruodi and Korean bass Stephano Park as Walter Furst, as well as outstanding work from the Wiener Staatsoper Chorus.

Bertrand de Billy conducts the Orchestra of the Wiener Staatsoper in a magnificent performance of Rossini’s powerful score, complete with a rousing rendition of the iconic overture, which meets with great applause.

Running at four hours in total the opera can begin to feel its length, and in this wordy, plot-heavy work we have to wait quite a while for any big, visual set pieces. Nevertheless, a very strong revival and it is wonderful to hear Rossini’s score played with such stirring virtuosity.


Running Time: 4 hours (approx.), including two 20-minute intervals.

Final Performance at Vienna State Opera: Tuesday 19 March 2024

For more information, and to book tickets, please CLICK HERE.

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